MTW Returns to Century II Concert Hall with ’42nd Street’
The musical “42nd Street” is dear to the heart of Brian J. Marcum.
It was the first Broadway tour he saw “as a young boy on the very back row of the balcony at the Orpheum in Memphis, Tennessee”.
One of Marcum’s first Broadway roles was as swing (understudy) for all 12 male leads in the set. He was picked for the first time, from a field of 70 in the final encores alone, in the 2001–2005 revival, left mid-race, and returned for the show’s close.
The show was one of the first Broadway shows to reopen, at the behest of New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, two days after the September 11 attacks.
The audience, Marcum recalls, consisted of first responders and the families of those killed in the attacks.
“That was the first moment I thought, ‘This is what we do. We take people away from their existence, whether it’s awful or good, for two hours,'” he recalled.
So when came the time to schedule the first show to return to the Century II Concert Hall – after a pandemic shutdown in 2020 and a 2021 that saw Music Theater Wichita using the Federal Capitol Amphitheater in Andover and the Century II Convention Hall for productions – there was only one choice for its artistic director.
“We haven’t been able to be home for two years, and this feels like the right show to come back to, where people can be in the seats they paid for, to see the friends they see every Thursday night during the summer,” Marcum said. “For me, it was a no-brainer that this was our first show inside the concert hall.”
Based on a Warner Bros. film. from 1933, “42nd Street” is a showbiz story set behind the scenes of the making of a musical during the Depression. The 1980 stage version won Tony Awards for Best Musical and Choreography, and the show also won a Tony for Best Revival in 2001. The music, taken from several musicals written around the same time, has was written by Johnny Mercer, Al Dubin and Harry. Warren and includes such standards as “You’re Getting to be a Habit with Me”, “I Have Only Eyes for You”, “We’re in the Money”, “Lullaby of Broadway” and the title track.
“It’s the epitome of a Broadway show – big flashy numbers, a great cast, a big male lead, a female lead and an underdog who wins in the end,” Marcum said.
“42nd Street” follows newcomer Peggy Sawyer (played by Lena Owens), whose dreams of being in a Broadway show are dashed until she meets famed and notorious director Julian Marsh (Tom Galantich). Marsh reluctantly casts former lead actress Dorothy Brock (Paula Leggett Chase) in a role that financially secures the production.
Galantich, a newcomer to MTW, has played against Julian three times in the past 13 years.
“I can play this role for the rest of my life and be happy – I really, really could. It embodies everything I think musical theater is about,” he said. “I embrace badness with purpose. For me, the best challenges I find in musical theater are characters who aren’t so nice and change their minds. Julien is a perfect example of that. He starts out as a a man desperate to get back on top, but he gets affected along the way as he didn’t expect to be affected by Peggy.
Leggett Chase’s resume includes the MTW shows “Mamma Mia,” “9 to 5,” and “Curtains.”
“It’s like coming home. It’s amazing to be here,” the Indiana native said with a laugh when she recalled her first encounter with “42nd Street.”
She was dance captain for a production of the musical at an Atlantic City casino with Peter Marshall of “Hollywood Squares” fame. She remembers the cast “dancing their hearts out” on stage in front of a crowd of sleeping, drunk, and/or unlucky players during a four-month run of the show in 1987–88.
Leggett Chase said she also liked the show.
“I love the desperation, the way it plays out in everyone’s depression and vibrancy,” said the actress, who starred in the Broadway musical “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” with Galantich. “You have to have something in there that’s kind of a killer instinct. They all want something, but they all get there in a different way.
A three-year veteran of MTW, with credits such as “Hairspray,” “Sister Act,” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” Owens got his first taste of “42nd Street.”
“I love the style of the show, this big standard Broadway musical,” she said. “It’s exactly what you want a musical to be – the big numbers, the acting, the heart of it. I feel like we can talk about the brashness of musicals , but hams always have heart.
As he auditioned performers for other roles, Marcum said he knew Owens would be his Peggy.
“She’s the first person that came to mind. She’s so unique in her personality and as a performer and the audience here loves her, just for her work overall. is the kind of quality you need in a Peggy,” he said. “There’s a vibrancy to her.”
Marcum says he has no doubt “42nd Street” will live on for decades.
“It’s popular as long as there are Peggy Sawyers,” he said, “or anyone who dreams of doing anything and faces any type of obstacle.”
’42ND STREET’ BY MUSIC THEATER WICHITA
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on June 18; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. June 19
Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas
Tickets: $25 to $72, at mtwichita.org, 316-265-3107 or Century II box office